Fish Soups for Lent

Fish Soups for Lent

Many Christians observe meatless Fridays during Lent, and some abstain from meat altogether. Meal planning for the first week or two is a snap, but as the season progresses, the search for something “new” picks up steam.

Fish-based soups and chowders are good options, as long as the list of ingredients doesn’t include bacon or ham, a caveat that excludes most clam chowders. The following dishes violate none of the rules, and they’re both delicious.

Cioppino and Canh Chua Tom

Cioppino traces its origins to the Italian-American fishermen based in San Francisco at the turn of the last century. As is true of so many homestyle dishes, each cook had their own version. Tomatoes and onions were generally included, and garlic was a must, but the fish varied with the day’s catch, and the seasoning depended on the cook’s palate.

A friend gave me the original version of the recipe. Canned clams aren’t “gourmet,” but on a busy weekday, they’re a real timesaver. The base can be made a day ahead and then refrigerated overnight. Add the fish once the base has been reheated.

Cioppino is hearty enough to be an entrée, especially if you serve it with crusty bread and a salad. When there are guests, I add a cheese tray.


Serves 4 as an entrée

1 ¼ -1 ½ pounds monkfish, catfish, halibut, or sea bass

2 cups sliced onion

¾ cup chopped green pepper

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

¼ cup olive or vegetable oil, or less

1 28-ounce  can Italian tomatoes, undrained

1 8-ounce  can tomato sauce

1 cup water

¼ cup chopped parsley

1 teaspoon basil

½ teaspoon oregano

¼ teaspoon pepper

1 10-ounce can whole baby clams, undrained

1 cup peeled shrimp, fresh or frozen, cooked or raw, cleaned and tail-off

  1. Cut fish into 1 ½ -inch chunks.
  2. Heat oil. Over medium heat, cook onion, garlic and green pepper until the onion is tender but not brown.
  3. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, water, parsley, salt, basil, oregano, and pepper.
  4. Cover, and simmer gently for about 30 minutes.
  5. Add fish chunks and simmer 10 to 15 minutes.
  6. Add clams and shrimp. Cover and simmer 10 minutes longer.
  7. Serve in oversized soup bowls.

Note: If you’re using frozen shrimp, you should plan on cooking them longer.

Spicy and Sour Shrimp Soup  (Canh Chua Tom)

4-6 servings as a first course

I had Vietnamese food for the very first time in Paris, and the very first dish I ate was canh chua tom. The subtlety of the sweet and sour flavor married well with the ripe tomatoes and the fresh pineapple. It was wonderful. In short, pho has its plusses, but whenever I can, I order canh chua tom.

2 tablespoons tamarind concentrate

½ cup boiling water

8 ounces raw shrimp, shelled and deveined

2 garlic cloves, chopped

¼ cup plus 1 teaspoon nuoc mam (Vietnamese fish sauce, preferably Three Crabs brand)

Freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 shallots, thinly sliced

3 stalks fresh lemon grass, white bulb crushed and cut into 2-inch sections

1 large tomato, cored, seeded and cut into wedges

2 tablespoons sugar

¼ fresh ripe pineapple, cored, cut into ¼-inch slices, and then cut crosswise into small chunks

½ cup fresh or canned bamboo shoots, drained and thinly sliced

1 teaspoon salt

2 fresh red chile peppers, minced*

½ cup fresh bean sprouts

1 scallion, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons fresh mint

  1. Dilute the tamarind concentrate with ¼ cup warm water.
  2. Cut each shrimp lengthwise in half. In a bowl, combine the shrimp, garlic, 1 teaspoon of the fish sauce and pepper to taste. Let stand for 30 minutes.
  3. Heat the oil in a 3-quart saucepan. Add the shallots and lemon grass and sauté briefly, without browning. Add the tomato and sugar and cook over moderate heat until slightly soft. Add the pineapple and bamboo shoots and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes.
  4.  Add 5 cups of water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Stir in the tamarind liquid, salt, and the remaining ¼ cup fish sauce. Reduce the heat to moderate and simmer the broth for 5 minutes.
  5.  Stir in the shrimp, chiles and bean sprouts and cook for 30 seconds more. Add the scallion and mint. Remove from the heat. Remove and discard the lemon grass. Serve at once.

*Note: It’s best to use Vietnamese fish sauce in a Vietnamese recipe and Thai fish sauce in a Thai recipe. There are subtle differences that affect the flavor of the finished dish.

Adapted from a recipe in Nicole Routhier’s  “The Foods of Vietnam” (Stewart, Tabori, & Chang, Inc., 1989)


Filed under: Ingredients and Recipes

Tags: #fish, #Lent, #soup

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